Choosing the best sanders for wood projects involves understanding the wood used, project size and finish to be applied. While my last woodworking project required a 22″ drum sander it’s not a sander I’d expect everyone to invest in.
Before we start looking at sanders, let’s first consider the reason for the variety and what to look for:
- High speed sanders with moving discs and belts offer the fastest surface area removal
- Low speed sanders like palm sanders are best for finishing passes
- Random orbit sanders can handle course to fine grits and are perfect for small projects
- Belt & drum sanders are best for large surface areas requiring a perfectly flat surface
For most hobbyists a combination of a quality random orbit sander and palm sander are sufficient.
Best Sanders for Wood
After decades of use with each tool, here’s my list of the best sanders for wood:
1. Random orbital sander for rough and finish sanding
With a random orbital sander you’ll be able to use course grit sandpaper to remove large amounts of wood. And then switch to finer (and finer) sanding discs to achieve a finish-ready surface.
A random orbit sander will quickly remove wood with available 24-grit hook-and-loop sanding discs. By use of a 10,000-RPM+ design the sander generates a fast cutting action that will smooth any planed surface quickly.
And to use, simply start with a low-grit sandpaper and move up to at least a 200+ grit for your finish pass.
Tip: Just be careful to not apply heavy pressure to the sander to avoid “swirl” in the finished wood.
2. Belt sander
With a belt sander just about any wood surface can be quickly ground smooth. But sometimes too fast, so this sander is used to prepare wood for finish sanding.
With a belt sander I’ve sanded thousands of wood cabinet door panels flat after they were ran through a planer. While eventually I went to a drum sander, this sander is versatile in sanding everything from face frames, door panels, even fitting cabinets and filler strips to walls.
Due to it’s aggressive design a large platen (metal surface between wood and sander) is desired, but a professional 4×21″ is a handful. So for a DIY’er I recommend a 3×21″ that is more affordable and is less strain on your arms.
3. Palm sander for smooth finishing of wood
A palm sander is the perfect sander for putting the final polish on wood after a random orbit sander. With fine-grit sandpaper this wood sander will prepare wood for stain.
Chances are you’ve used this sander in the past, but if not it works on a simple design of using a “quarter” sheet of sandpaper locked in it’s clamps. Due to it’s design it’s best suited for putting a final pass on wood before applying finish.
4. Drum sander - the best sander for large wood projects
A drum sander is needed for the same reason you don’t use a circular saw to rip boards to width (right?). And for any serious woodworker this is an investment worth having.
While #4 on this list, it’s not because it isn’t the best wood sander on the list. Because it is and I’ve owned two (a 16″ and then upgraded to a 22″) of these sanders. Due to it’s wide drum design and aggressive cutting capability it can grind through just about any project, including upper cabinet face frames up to 50″ tall if you opt for a 25″ model.
And this machine hooks right into the dust collector you already have for your table saw.
5. Power Disc Sanders
A power disc sander moves this list of best wood sanders into the specialty sanders. For intricate or small sanding tasks a disc sander provides precise control as you hold the wood, not the sander.
If your projects have a number of small pieces or you need to precisely sand the end grain of small sticks then this is a sander for you. Since you won’t need to hold the sander you can have precise control over the wood as you sand.
6. Sponge sander for wood
A sponge sander is often overlooked by woodworkers, but it’s a versatile sander you’ll use throughout your projects. From sanding raised panels to sealer on finish it’s a must have.
I have dozens of these on hand for cabinet making projects as they are cheap and I’m always running out. Due to their soft design they work great for getting into heard to reach places and bending to the profile of curved wood.
And they aren’t just for cabinets because over the years I’ve probably sanded 50,000 feet of architectural trim between spray coats with an HVLP sprayer.
7. Block sander for wood (or metal)
A block sander is one of the few tools that hasn’t evolved over the years. While chances are you own one, it’s invaluable for quickly taking edges off shelving or face frames.
So I turn to this sander every time I’m finish sanding a cabinet with face frames. Why? Well, I don’t want to use a pad or orbital sander inside the cabinet and often they just don’t fit. Or I needlessly wreck a sanding disc tackling a job that this sanding block is honestly faster at.
Buying Guide for the Best Sanders for Wood
As you look at purchasing your next sander you’ll want to consider both current use but also future needs.
Choosing Between Cordless and Corded
With the batteries available now you’ll be able to choose cordless on a number of sanders. While convenient, there are a few considerations on choosing a cordless wood sander vs. a corded version.
Choose cordless if:
- Your budget allows the extra cost
- You own the battery line that supports your sander.
- Portability of tools is a must
Plan for the Future
Remember your needs today may not be the same as tomorrow. For example, after completing that first piece of furniture you may keep building.
So, here’s a few tips on what sanders you’ll want to consider as upgrades now (vs. replacing later):
- No matter your project size, buy a top grade orbital sander now. Because they are cheap enough to be upgraded just buy the best now
- Belt sanders are one of the seldom used tools but in two drastic cost categories. For most hobbyists an entry level belt sander is fine. However, if you plan to make cabinets and aren’t planning a drum sander than consider a top notch sander from Porter Cable or Makita.
- It’s probably close to $1500-2000 with a dust collector but a drum sander is a necessity for any larger cabinet or furniture projects or plans. And if you are purchasing one consider spending the extra money now for a 22″ version. Just that extra 6″ gives you so much more versatility for larger cabinet doors.
Remember Dust Collection
If your sights are set on a drum sander remember you’ll need a dust collector to go with that. And, that’s not just a sander need as you’ll be able to connect it to your table saw, miter saw station, planer and many other tools.
Lastly, for smaller tools you can still consider a downdraft table like the Grizzly Downdraft Table Kit.
Frequently Asked Questions for the Best Sanders for Wood
Is an orbital sander good for wood?
An orbital sander is one of my top three recommended sanders due to it’s versatility and wide range of grits.
What is the best sander to use for refurnishing furniture?
A combination of an orbital sander and a mouse sander that can reach into 90-degree corners is my preference.
Is an orbital sander better than a sheet sander?
Each sander is good at different tasks, but if I had my choice of one sander I would buy just an orbital sander due to it’s wide range of grits it can support.
While the best sanders for wood working might depend on your budget and projects there is always a combination of sanders for your budget. So remember your current and future plans when purchasing and avoid the costly mistake of having to upgrade too soon.